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Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent 2012: The Now and Not Yet

I am late to the party when it comes to celebrating and enjoying Advent. Not having grown up with religious practice around Christmastime, I did not know about lighting candles and the Advent wreath and all that till much later...

Not only have I learned to extend Christmas joy into an entire month by practicing Advent, but even better, I have grown in learning how to anticipate the Second Advent by recalling the First Advent.

A friend in Bible study got all of us turned on to Advent readings provided by Creighton University, a Catholic school in Omaha. The readings for this first week have been a lovely way to start this year's Advent celebrations and reflections.

Here is a portion of today's scripture reading, from Isaiah 29. Take a moment to envision this prophecy for the future:

17 Soon—and it will not be very long
    the forests of Lebanon will become a fertile field,
    and the fertile field will yield bountiful crops.
18 In that day the deaf will hear words read from a book,
    and the blind will see through the gloom and darkness.
19 The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the Lord.
    The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
20 The scoffer will be gone,
    the arrogant will disappear,
    and those who plot evil will be killed.
21 Those who convict the innocent
    by their false testimony will disappear.
A similar fate awaits those who use trickery to pervert justice
    and who tell lies to destroy the innocent.

22 That is why the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, says to the people of Israel,

“My people will no longer be ashamed
    or turn pale with fear.
23 For when they see their many children
    and all the blessings I have given them,
they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Israel.
    They will stand in awe of the God of Jacob.
24 Then the wayward will gain understanding,
    and complainers will accept instruction.

The Advent writer for today's passage says this about these words:

Isaiah is a prophet, one who sees reality as God inspires him to and who then speaks of that reality as God impels him to.  Here Isaiah speaks of the changes that God will operate, and he describes those changes in three seamless stages.

At first Isaiah speaks of very clear changes in Lebanon and then gradually eases into smaller and less visible alterations: the deaf shall hear, etc.  In the third stage he proclaims the end of evil: the tyrant, the arrogant, those alert to do evil, etc. shall disappear.  Isaiah makes it clear that the Lord is actually working these positive transformations, right now; he announces and proclaims it in the very face of all the contrary evidence...

The last verses of this passage point to the result of God's work: the house of Jacob shall have all sorts of reasons to be healthy and fearless and to know and serve the Lord.  This is something yet to come for his hearers, and it is still today only a hope (and I mean that in the theological sense, not as just a vague wish).

As Christians of today we find ourselves in much the same position.  In terms of Isaiah's words, our world is becoming visibly less clean and fresh, and it needs renewal or recreation (cf. Wordsworth, "The world is too much with us").  We have all sorts of people wounded and broken in body and spirit, and not just "naturally" so, and can we say that evil men and women do not have a major hand in running our world?  Jesus has come and changed everything by His living, dying, and rising, but we still wait in hope to see the fullness of His salvation.

So do Isaiah's words bring us to hope, to trusting the Lord even in our darkness and frustration?  Are we willing to live the life of the beatitudes as we await the revelation of the Lord in our world? 

If not, can we experience the coming feast of the Birth of Christ in any authentic way? 

I am greatly challenged by his last questions, especially the last one I bolded in bright blue. I want to say a vigorous YES! to that... may we each live "the life of the beatitudes" in this waiting time between the First and Second Advents of our Savior.

Yesterday I finished up my class at Westmont and left them with these words...

"Heaven is not a far-away place to which we hope to go; it is the presence of God in which we ought to live." William R. Inge (1860-1954)

This was a class on how to integrate theology, doctrine and practice for ministry. Before we get too lost in all the implications of that, I wanted them to remember that it is really quite simple: ministry is giving people a taste of heaven. In the NOW, we get a tiny glimpse of the NOT YET. That alone is more compelling than any words we could possibly come up with.

As you practice Advent, I pray that we will all taste of heaven, and be reminded of the many beautiful promises that the Lord is bringing to bear -- slowly, steadily, surely. Hallelujah!

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